Busted Halo

Most dating and relationships books, columns and shows won’t go near issues of faith. Author, professor and speaker Dr. Christine B. Whelan assumes faith has some role, and tackles even the toughest questions.

Click this banner to see the entire section.

February 17th, 2011

Generation WTF

Wise, tenacious, and fearless self-help



  • How do I stop procrastinating?
  • Where do I find a meaningful relationship?
  • How do I ace a job interview?
  • What do I do with a roommate who hates me?
  • And what am I really working toward in my life — what’s my purpose?

If you are between the ages of 18 and 25, then chances are you’ve asked yourself these questions. The last few years have been pretty tough for young adults: The economic downtown means that jobs are harder to find after graduation and all these life-skills and personal questions have become a lot more important.

  • Should I work at a job I hate just because it pays more than the career I really love?
  • Is this all there is in life?

Sound familiar? If so, you’re a member of Generation WTF — a group of young adults who have big dreams, but aren’t quite sure how to make them a reality. You are optimistic about the future, but could use a little guidance on how to achieve your goals. Perhaps you are looking to take a bit more control of your life or could use some practical information about money issues. You want research-based solutions that work.

If this sounds like you, read on to learn about the experiment I’ve been running for the last three years — and how it can help you answer the “big questions” in your own life.

The Generation WTF Project

As a young college professor, my students often come into my office asking me for advice. (I’m clearly not one of those intimidating professors, since I really do get all kinds of questions!) Since I’ve researched self-help books for the last decade or so, I know a fair amount about the advice-giving business — and I know that it’s pretty tricky to do it right.

Many advice books promise quick-fix solutions that look good on paper but are impossible to achieve in real life. Others diagnose you with every problem on the planet, only to tell you that your inner child needs a good cry. But in my research, I’ve come across a handful of classic self-help books — including Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People, Stephen Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and M. Scott Peck’s The Road Less Traveled — that are full of virtue-based, honest and practical advice that reminds us of core truths and encourages us to be better people, from the inside out.

So over the years, when my students came to me asking for advice about everything from overcoming procrastination to acing a job interview, I’d often turn to my shelves of guidebook "bests." And then the economy tanked — and that trickle of students turned into a wave of anxious young adults asking: “What happened to the jobs?” “What happened to the promises of a bright future?” "Why does life seem so hard?" “WTF is going on?!”

That’s when the Generation WTF Project was born.

For the last three years, I’ve worked with students at the University of Iowa and the University of Pittsburgh – my Generation WTF testers – to see if the best of classic self-help advice (much of it written during other tough times in the last century) could be remixed into useful nuggets of wisdom for today’s young adults. More than 200 students have road-tested the Depression-era social graces of Dale Carnegie in their job interviews, and the 1970s-oil-crisis advice of M. Scott Peck on delaying gratification in forgoing video game time for the future reward of higher grades. I got feedback comparing the merits of David Bach’s money-saving advice in The Finish Rich Workbook with Suze Orman’s in The 9 Steps to Financial Freedom. I threw in Richard Wiseman’s 2010 book 59 Seconds: Think A Little, Change A Lot, a compendium of social psychology research in action to test out academic theories of overcoming procrastination in everyday life. At the end of the experiment, I had a short list of advice that worked — advice that had made a significant impact in the lives of young adults struggling to find their way.

Busted Halo readers have helped out, too: I’ve written about some of the advice in previous columns — and gotten great feedback from you: What’s the intersection of money and values in romantic relationships? Is too much text messaging hurting your friendships? Is being polite honest? Does one-minute love advice really work? Can ambition be a Christian virtue?

The result of all this research is my new book: Generation WTF: From “What the #%$&” to a Wise, Tenacious, and Fearless You. It’s the best of classic self-help advice remixed for — and by — Generation WTF to speak directly to the issues that young adults face. The goal is to take you from the crass exclamation of frustration to a wise, tenacious and fearless you. As many Busted Halo readers know, a strong faith and an understanding of core values are crucial to achieving life goals — and Generation WTF has plenty of advice to help you focus your purpose and find your own vocation.

Topics include:

  • What are your values?
  • Finding your purpose
  • Get honest with yourself (through time journals, gratitude journals, etc.)
  • Set SMARTER goals
  • 7 steps to amp up your self-control
  • Win the procrastination-stress battle
  • WTF does my money go?
  • College budgeting and beyond
  • Avoid arguments
  • Interview like a pro
  • Create more meaningful friendships and relationships
  • Give back and get involved

I’ll be posting excerpts from the book here and telling you about all the cool contests we’re going to run along the way. (Want a free iPad? Stay tuned!) If you’re interested in learning more, become a fan of Generation WTF on Facebook. I’ll also be posting YouTube videos with quick bits of advice and answers to reader questions. But in the meantime, I want to hear from you:

  1. Are you a member of Generation WTF? If so, what are the biggest challenges you face in your everyday life?
  2. What advice would be most useful for you right now — professionally or personally?
  3. If you could give a bit of advice to your peers to get from that WTF of frustration to becoming wise, tenacious and fearless in their everyday lives, what would it be?


Post your thoughts below, email me at askchristinewtf@gmail.com or post your questions and comments on Facebook. I’ll respond via YouTube videos or in blog entries on the Generation WTF website. Just to start off the contests, everyone posting their thoughts will be entered to win a free copy of the book from Busted Halo.

Stay tuned for more!

The Author : Christine B. Whelan
Dr. Christine B. Whelan is an author, professor and speaker. She and her husband, Peter, and their dictator cats, Chairman Meow and Evita Purron, live in Pittsburgh. Her book "Why Smart Men Marry Smart Women" is available in stores or at the Halo Store.
See more articles by (214).
Please note that the editorial staff reserves the right to not post comments it deems to be inappropriate and/or malicious in nature, as well as edit comments for length, clarity and fairness.
  • jack

    While the acronym is indeed (especially from my own observations of my generation) a very appropriate moniker, I’m not sure that it’s appropriate to use it in the title of a parish program directed at the same generation. Regardless how ignorant some of the older generations would be of the acronym, those who are in the know shouldn’t have the F-word brought to mind at the parish by any such program.

  • Anthony

    From my perspective the edgy tagline is being used to draw attention. Only you know if that is true but remember the ends do not justify the means of using widely recognized vulgarity just to lure young people. I certainly have been very wrong many times before but this one seems pretty obvious. Christ calls us to meet people where they are but certainly not use edgy deception to fool them into hearing the word. Instead we are simply called to be Holy and trust that Christ needs nothing more than our will. If we follow His will, there is no part of us that needs to be racy to attract people to Him. We must remember he does the work, not us. Again I could be wrong but I encourage us all to pray that we avoid the temptation of using the kind of rude marketing tactics that already pollute mainstream media. When in doubt, talk with some of our Fathers in the Church about it. All respectfully…

  • Liz

    I am an academic advisor and also teach a freshman seminar at my college, and I’d be interested in possibly using this book as a supplementary text. I think it would click with my students better than some of the material I’m currently using.

  • Christine

    And Sr. Gayle, Karen and Mags, thanks for your support! Do check out all the material we have available on http://www.generationwtf.com. Plus, on Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/generationwtf) and Twitter (@christinewhelan) you can get daily bits of virtue-based advice and thought-provoking exercises. Hope you enjoy!

  • Christine

    Rosin & Anthony, thanks for your concern–and I do see your point about the dangers of using a crass expression to appeal to young-adults. However, as a Church, we need to both meet people where they are, and also help “rebrand” crass expressions of frustration into ones of virtue-based empowerment.

    To me, taking that old WTF expression and turning it into a goal of becoming wise, tenacious and fearless — by finding your purpose, living your values and embracing core truths — is one way to help young-adults realize that there are alternatives out there to the crass culture we get exposed to everyday.

    Tomorrow, I’ll be posting an excerpt from chapter one of my book. Check it out. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

  • Anthony

    I was referred to this site by my Church and the first thing I see is an ad for this article with WTF being used to grab my attention. As Christians we cannot cave to vulgarity that is simply disguised by cute acronyms just so that we can sound “hip” to the younger generation. Sad to see this site condones this.

  • Christina

    This sounds like a book that will be beneficial to many young adults. As a graduate student who is 25 I can relate to all of these questions. I think that young adults today really do have a desire to find their vocation, yet there is so much effort and stress involved in trying to locate a job that it is easy to not stay on the path of discerning your true calling.

  • Roisin H

    This is not appropriate for Busted Halo. Who is censoring the articles and topics. It is clearly not in line with the Paulist Fathers!!

  • mags

    I am also past WTF age but work with young people – to compare my youth to theirs makes me sound like a very old person but may give some insight. I was given responsibilies at a very young age, parents today spend a lot of time giving lots of stuff to their children (who have been media and peer pressured into expecting it); aspirations are high but they are not taught that you have to start somewhere – you cannot just ‘be’ an accountant. Life experience is around ‘freedom’ rather than discipline. I started work at 17, part-time work before that – I was addressing some of these issues much younger when I was more ‘formative’ – I can well understand why at 25 it is harder to grasp that the world does not revolve around you. BTW this is not a criticism of the young – just that how we live now is not very rounded or supportive of others – having lived through the selfishness of the 80’s I think we lost a lot of our caring society skills – good to see it getting addressed here. And hs someone else has said – good advice fits every age group.

  • Karen Henshaw, AAHCC, CD(DONA)

    I’d love to see what you’ve culled from the wealth of info out there.

  • SrGayle

    Thanks! I put it on my FB page for my students.

  • Christine

    So true, William! And yet coming of age today–without having been taught some of the basic life skills necessary to succeed in a tough economy–presents its own set of problems. The goal of the Generation WTF project is to get young-adults to think about big questions for themselves, at a formative age where good life choices can make a big difference down the road.

    Most advice guides are written for folks in their 30s and 40s and older. Young-adults have these questions, too, and this is an opportunity to have the discussions you mention… in their own language.

  • William Grogan

    I’m not quite sure I understand this post. We’ve all asked these questions, from 18 to 100, and, as long as we’re breathing, still asking them. I am far from “Generation WTF,” but have faced every one of the above mentioned obstacles, as has probably every human that has walked this earth. You do what you need to to survive, from taking low paying jobs to meet the bills, to constantly adjusting future prospects and goals. It’s called growing up and it’s unending. That’s the way it should be. If I ever think I have all the answers, life would no longer be an adventure.

  • Sr. Emily Morgan, RSM

    I want to get a group of Generation WTF going in our 4 parishes. I’ve called two planning meetings — nobody shows. How do I get this going?

powered by the Paulists